When I am 64 and other false positives : The PACE Trial.

Greg Crowhurst
6th February 2013

“Much of what we think we know based on conventional statistical studies published in the academic literature stands a good chance of just not being so “ 
Roger Pielke Jr

Imagine  I am a psychiatrist and for £5 million, say ,  I want to prove that CBT and GET are a safe and useful treatment  for ME. The good news is “how unacceptably easy it is to accumulate (and report) statistically significant evidence for a false hypothesis,  according to Nelson and  Simonsohn (2011). 

Their frightening  paper “False-Positive Psychology,” shows  how  “undisclosed flexibility in data collection and analysis allows presenting anything as significant,” . In fact Nelson and Simonshon statistically “prove” that listening to “When I am 64” by the Beatles can  make you a couple of years younger !

The bad news, for people with ME,  as Nature points out, is how  : Positive results in psychology can behave like rumours: easy to release but hard to dispel. 


Compounding the problem  “  is the pathetic state of science reporting: the problem of how unacceptably easy it is to publish total fictions about science, and falsely claim relevance to real everyday life.” In  the ME community we know more than most  the devastating impact of that.


Science has the potential to do so much good - imagine if for the last 20 years the emphasis had been upon biomedical research in ME ! Instead we have all  suffered grievously  from psychiatry  acting in the interests of massive vested interests, determined to deny the physical reality of ME. Ultimately that  is terribly damaging for science.


Disturbingly it has been found that   the odds of reporting a positive result are  around "five times higher among papers in the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry and economics and business compared with space science". We would have done far better, it seems , if ME had been  ascribed  to aliens !!


The situation is not improving. In 1959, statistician Theodore Sterling found that 97% of the studies in four major psychology journals had reported statistically significant positive results.  When he repeated the analysis in 1995, nothing had changed. http://www.nature.com/news/replication-studies-bad-copy-1.10634 

This is especially remarkable , given that the DSM currently lists 297 official mental disorders,  yet  there is no lab test for any of those 297 disorders. As Jon Rapport comments : If psychiatry were nothing more than an intellectual game in a vacuum, it wouldn’t matter.

 Oh, but it matters ! It matters very much to my wife and I, given she has suffered twenty untreated years of absolute  agony, while ME funding, in its millions, has been wholly diverted to psychiatry.

The evidence is overwhelming that CBT – designed to change "negative thinking" and GET are devastating for people with ME, making them worse – this is shown in study after study. So, if I was a psychiatrist, how might I manipulate the inevitable disappointing  research figures ?
There are any number of ways :

  • Write  your own version of the  London Criteria , so that they are virtually  identical to the Oxford Criteria.

  • Make sure there is  absolutely no data whatsoever in your  paper on what most people would regard as objective markers of recovery; this data was simply ignored. http://www.meassociation.org.uk/?p=14333

  • Do not define or objectively measure "fatigue". Just as  the meaning of  "ME " is shifted to "CFS", shift the meaning of "recovery" to not mean physical recovery, nor to mean loss of symptoms - only the removal of a fatigue that you have not defined in the first place, or measured in any objective way.

  • Make sure that your definition of recovery is not relative to a healthy person’s score by using the English population mean ( which includes elderly and disabled people) -  rather than the working age mean .

The PACE Trial,   surely , is  a  watershed.  No matter how much they try and veil the results in smoke and mirrors or spin it  to the hilt,  the Pace Trial  confirms  how redundant psychiatry has always been in the treatment of  ME; the serious  neurological disease that is  destroying  our lives.

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